LONDON -- And now for something completely different....
For a tournament that prides itself on order and tradition, Wimbledon gave us a different look in Week One. It was the site of Tennis anarchy, a riot of the unpredictable. Rules were challenged. Leaders were toppled. There were few umbrellas, but chaos came pouring down.
With so many seeds dispatched -- this marked the first time that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer entered the same Major and neither lasted until the middle weekend -- the storylines for Week Two are abundant for hardcore fans and sparse for casual fans, who might not rearrange their schedules to watch Lukasz Kubot's bid for the quarters.
As we see it, the overarching storylines break down as follows:
- Can anyone stop Serena? She was the overwhelming favorite before the event. What is she now that only two other top ten seeds are left? One of the dangerous non-seeds looms as the next opponent. Germany's Sabine Lisicki is armed with the harshest serve this side of Serena. And she always plays her best on grass. Serena ought to win, but it could be her biggest challenge.
- Can Murray beat Djokovic/Can Djokovic beat Murray? Yes, if this were DVR, we'd fast forward to the Murray-Djokovic final, the latest installment of tennis's next rivalry. (Though, of course, if Week One taught us anything, it's that prognosticating is a fool's errand). Regardless, it's a huge opportunity for both. Murray, of course, can win Wimbledon. (Allegedly, it would mean a lot to him, and the fans here). By winning his second title, Djokovic would cement his No. 1 status, atone for his French Open close call, and take another step toward history.
- Can Sloane Stephens emerge from the bottom half of the draw? Before dismissing this as jingoism and/or an expression of the desperation for American tennis, check out Stephens' draw. By reaching the fourth round, she is almost assured of finishing 2013 in the top ten. A deep run here and she could go even higher.
- Who will step up? Given the holes (canyons) in the draws, there are huge opportunities for little-known players. Opportunities for prize money. For ranking points. For the less-quantifiable "glory." Inevitably, some matchups next week, played on the most hallowed court in tennis will feature Who? versus Huh? But it will be interesting to see which players meet the moment.
After a crazy first week, here are our Wimbledon 2013 midterm grades, marks handed out on the usual curve.
The element of surprise: Crushed it in Week One.
Serena Williams: "Miss Williams, would you prefer your middle initial on the trophy this year."
Novak Djokovic/Andy Murray: One, the other, or both in positions to make order out of this chaos.
Steve Darcis, Sergiy Stakhovsky and Michelle Larcher de Brito: All three giant killers (of Nadal, Federer and Sharapova, respectively) bow out in the next round, their stagecoaches turning into pumpkins. But for one shining moment, we knew they were alive.
Youth: The kids got together and decided it was time to show up. Madison Keys, Monica Puig, Sloane Stephens, Bernard Tomic, Laura Robson all serve notive and aces in equal measure.
Age: Both Kimiko Date Krumm (42) and Tommy Haas (35) do themselves proud.
Serve and volley: reports of its demise were exaggerated.
Everyman/Everywoman: Nadal, Federer, Sharapova, and Azarenka might be gone. But Tsvetana Pironkova, Karin Knapp, Ivan Dodig and Kenny DeSchepper are still in contention.
Andy Ram and Abigail Spears: "Ram/Spears" is simply the best name for a mixed doubles team.
American women: Madison Keys and Alison Riske bow out gamely on Saturday. Sloane Stephens has yet to summon her best but is still in the draw. And there's that S. Williams character.
Andrea Petkovic: Loses a heartbreaker to Sloane Stephens, 8-6 in the final set. But great to have her back in the cast. Get a load of this perspective.
Lleyton Hewitt: Fires one up for the memory banks with a round one takedown of Stan Wawrinka, looking very much like the feisty champ he once was. Then looks like a thirtysomething father on his last legs, as he falls in round two to....
Dustin Brown: Just your average serve-and-volleying, Jamaican/German, camper-van driving qualifier, reaches round four. Including his qualifying run, he has won 14 of 15 sets on grass at one point. Then, all but fails to post in a winnable third-rounder against Adrian Mannarino.
Michael Llodra: In an interval befitting week one, the French veteran retired from his singles match in the morning citing a hamstring injury. He then decided that he was okay to play doubles. He and his partner -- appropriately, Nicolas Mahut -- advanced when their opponents pulled out with an injury. Debate: was he a trooper, and loyal to his partner?
Seeds: Can the last to leave please turn off the sprinklers?
Seeds: The folks in loafers claim the grass is as good as ever this year. The folks in tennis shoes have been sliding and issuing complaints. If you were a jury whom would you deem more credible?
Former WTA No. 1 players: Five of them—Wozniacki, Jankovic, Ivanovic, Sharapova and Azarenka—were eliminated in a single day.
American men: For the first time since prior to World War One, none made the third round. Yes, the sport is global. Yes, Andy Roddick retired (and surely wish he would have hung on an additional year.) Yes, John Isner suffered a fluke injury. But there's too much money being spent on development not to demand some better results and some more accountability.
Interview room minder: You want to demand players wear all white attire? Fine. But why bleach the color from the players off the court? Unlike other tournaments, Wimbledon employs an interview room minder, a humor-deprived guard to stand sentry against potentially interesting discourse. Dustin Brown, the German/Jamaican qualifier who once shuttled between tournaments in a camper-van walks in after beating a former champion. Maybe you want give this a few extra minutes before sternly demanding, "last question."
Likewise, if players can -- and should -- endorse watches and candy and banks, plug their fashion lines and charitable foundations, discuss their diversity of interests, there's something disingenuous about demanding "tennis questions only." At a time when the sport has so many stories to tell, so many ways to tell them, and a global audience dying for more than "I-take-it-one-match-at-a-time" pap, this interview Cerberus serves the best interest of precisely no one. The days of the Fleet Street tabloid press asking inappropriate questions is long gone. This guy's tenure should be, too. Rant over. Mamba out.